A Call to Construction of the Temple
Haggai takes us back to the time when the Babylonian captives were permitted to return to their homeland. In 538 BC, the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the prediction the people from Judah and Jerusalem will spend seventy years in captivity (Jeremiah 25), "the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus, king of Persia, so that he sent a proclamation throughout his kingdom, and put it in writing, saying, Thus says Cyrus king of Persia, 'The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and He has appointed me to build Him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever there is among you of all His people, may the Lord His God be with him, and let him go up!'" (2 Chronicles 36:22-23; Ezra 1:1-4).
Cyrus returned the articles taken from the temple by Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, in 605 (Daniel 1:2), in 597 (2 Kings 24:13), and in 586 (2 Kings 25:14-15; Jeremiah 27:16-22). The neighbors of the Jews were ordered to support their return to Judah and Jerusalem with silver, gold, goods, cattle, and a freewill offering (Ezra 1:5). About fifty thousand Jews took advantage of the proclamation (Ezra 2:64-65), returning to Judah in 536BC, under the leadership of Zerubbabel, who Cyrus appointed governor of Judah.
Zerubbabel, Joshua, the high priest, and men from all the cities in Judah rebuilt the brazen altar and in the seventh month, the beginning of the Feast of Trumpets (Numbers 29:1-6) they offered burnt offerings to the Lord, and celebrated the Feast of Booths, which lasted from the fifteenth to the twenty-second of the seventh month.
The foundation of the temple was laid in 535 BC. The Levites, twenty years and older, were appointed overseers of the restoration of the temple (Ezra 3:7-13) and restoration of the temple began.
When the Samaritans, the descendants from the intermarriages of Israelites and foreigners who were transplanted to Samaria by the king of Assyria in 669BC heard the temple was being restored offered their help in the restoring the temple. When the offer was rejected, they began harassing the workers and did whatever they could to hinder the restoration of the temple, which included obtaining an injunction prohibiting the rebuilding of the wall around Jerusalem that was torn down by the Babylonians.
When Darius ascended to the throne of Persia, he confirmed Cyrus' proclamation and overturned the injunction. Instead of returning to the restoration of the temple, the people began to make excuses why they were not restoring the temple. They claimed this was not the right time to restore the temple because they were in the sixty-eighth year of the seventy-year captivity predicted by Jeremiah (chapter 25). However, they were busy building houses for themselves, planting crops, tending their flocks and vineyards.
Like many professing Christians today, the Jews were using their situation as an excuse for not obeying the will of the Lord. They are too busy doing their own thing, which is temporary and will come to no good end rather than doing what is eternal and will bring joy and happiness.
The Lord will do what He did before the Israelites went into captivity. He will explain to them why they are in the situation they are in just as He revealed through Ezekiel why they were taken into captivity.
Temple to be rebuilt
"In the second year of Darius the king of Persia, on the first day of the sixth month, the word of the Lord came by Haggai the prophet to Zerubbabel...governor of Judah and Joshua ...the high priest, saying, Thus says the Lord of hosts, 'This people says, "The time has not come, even the time for the house of the Lord to be rebuilt'" Haggai 1:1-2).
The Lord of hosts does not call the exiles "His people" because they were ignoring His will. His will for the people is the restoration of the temple. They had used the injunction against the rebuilding of the wall, and the harassment by the Samaritans as an excuse for not restoring the temple. Now that the injunction has been overturned and the harassment by the Samaritans has declined, they are using the need to build houses for themselves and their families and providing food and clothing for themselves and their families as an excuse for not restoring the temple.
Leaders set example
The word of the Lord speaking to Zerubbabel and Joshua through Haggai implies as the civil leader and religious leader they were not doing what they should be doing, that is setting an example for their people. Those who are leaders in the church need to set a proper example for those that come under their care. Parents should set a proper example for their children. Why should the children attend church services if those who hold positions in the church find something more important to do on Sunday morning, Sunday night and Wednesday night or whatever other night is set aside for the worship of the Lord and the fellowship of the family of God?
Serving the Lord demands sacrifice and sacrifices are rewarded by the Lord. The harvest fields of the Lord often lack laborers because the laborers put off working in His fields because it is not a convenient time. We often fail to see the opposition we face when we are called into the service of the Lord is a test of our faith. It is bad enough we neglect doing what the Lord has called us to do, charging our neglect at His doorstep is an insult. He has kept His promises and we must keep ours.
Haggai 1:3-4 "Then the word of the Lord came by Haggai the prophet, saying, is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses while this house lies desolate?"
The word of the Lord through Haggai is speaking not only to Zerubbabel, Joshua, and the people of his day, he is speaking to the leaders and people of this century when He tells them, "Consider your ways" (V 5). In other words, evaluate what you are doing and compare it to what you are not doing. Consider this, what have you gained by seeking to satisfy your desires over My desires. Where are you? What you are doing and what are the results?
Verse six - "You have sown much, but harvest little; you eat, but there is not enough to be satisfied; You drink, but there is not enough to become drunk; you put on clothing, but no one is warm enough; and he who earns, earns wages to put into a purse with holes."
In other words, you have not prospered seeking self-satisfaction. You thought you could escape poverty by not restoring the temple and keeping the resources that have been given to you to be used to restore the temple and spend them on what you thought would bring you comfort and happiness. Instead of cheating the Lord, you have been cheating yourself. Crop failure has dragged you deeper into poverty. What you earn you are unable to keep because the cost of living is constantly increasing. The word of the Lord through Haggai is saying; compare what you have done and what you are suffering to what you could be enjoying.